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Holyrood candidates asked to back pilots of Universal Basic Income

80 candidates for the Scottish Parliament have pledged to support trials of a new radical idea that could see everyone given a monthly basic income regardless of income, wealth or work.

Debating chamber Scottish Parliament 31 05 2006
Jamieli on Wikimedia Commons.

Candidates for the Scottish Parliament are being asked to sign a pledge promising to support pilots of Universal Basic Income (UBI) if elected on 6 May.

80 candidates from six parties have put their name to the project since it launched on 12 March, including Cabinet Secretary for Social Security Shirley-Anne Somerville.

The Scottish Government have already expressed interest in piloting a Basic Income, which would see everyone receive a regular and unconditional cash payment regardless of income, wealth or work.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the failings in the UK's social system, as it has struggled to support people in a time of challenge," said Jamie Cooke, the head of RSA Scotland, who are calling on the government to launch UBI pilots.

"Universal Credit is not fit for purpose, and the time is long overdue for a Basic Income to be introduced to help reset the social contract."

The pledge has been launched by Basic Income Network Scotland in collaboration with the UBI Lab Network, a project supported by Opus Independents, who also publish Now Then.

Other candidates to sign the pledge include Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, co-leaders of the Scottish Greens, as well as members of Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats.

It builds on the success of a similar project in Wales, where 101 Senedd candidates have signed a UBI Lab Wales pledge backing Basic Income pilots. In England, Andy Burnham has promised to support pilots if re-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Supporters of a Universal Basic Income believe it would guarantee everyone the right to basic financial security by providing a regular income boost to millions.

There are different ideas for how a UBI could be paid for, but all serious proposals would make low and middle income households better off, and many would end absolute poverty altogether. The highest earners would receive a UBI like everybody else, but would effectively pay it back in higher taxes on the very rich to fund a Basic Income for everybody.

All serious UBI proposals in the UK would retain Housing Benefit and disability benefits, but would replace some means-tested payments like Jobseeker's Allowance and tax credits.

A UBI pilot in Finland showed improved mental health for participants. It also found that recipients of a UBI spent more days in employment on average compared to a control group.

In June 2020, the Scottish Government published the results of a £250,000 study exploring the feasibility of a Universal Basic Income pilot in Scotland.

The report found that a pilot would require cooperation from HMRC and the DWP, as it would involve significant changes to the tax and benefits system for participants.

The report concluded that a UBI pilot was “challenging but desirable”, and recommended that the Scottish Government move ahead with the project.

In May 2020, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs: “My position on that has gone from having a keen interest in exploring it to what I now describe as active support for it.”

Councils in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife and North Ayrshire have all expressed a wish to pilot Universal Basic Income in their area.

"These crucial elections will help set the agenda for a critical time in our history – and ensuring basic income is at the heart of how we build back better is essential," Cooke told Now Then.

"The current Scottish Government has demonstrated leadership on UBI. The cross-party support for basic income in the next Parliament will help ensure that the next government has the courage and political will to deliver the change we need."

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